Solar cells act something like leaves, capturing sunlight and turning it into energy - unfortunately the manufacturing of solar cells, unlike trees, is something of an environmental disaster. From rare earth metals to all kinds of other materials due to substrates and cells, solar panels have to function for decades before they break even, as far as any ecological savings are considered.
If only solar cells could instead be made from trees.
Georgia Tech and Purdue researchers say they have done it; they have developed efficient solar cells using natural substrates derived from trees. Just as importantly, by fabricating them on cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) substrates, the solar cells can be quickly recycled in water at the end of their life cycle.